After a few years of hard work and perseverance by lawmakers and Sam Pratt’s family, the House and Senate passed a scaled-back version of Sam Pratt’s Law.
Baby William “Sam” Pratt died in an unlicensed home day care facility in 2009 of non-accidental head trauma.
The need for a law became apparent when Sam’s family discovered there was a loophole in the laws for unlicensed child care providers. The unlicensed provider accused of causing Sam’s death was allowed to baby-sit children during a pending investigation.
The bill referring to Sam Pratt’s Law states “in any case involving abuse, neglect, or death of a child, any court with competent jurisdiction may impose as a condition of release of a defendant under section 544.455 that such defendant be prohibited from providing child care services for compensation pending final disposition of the case.”
The same measure would require any child care facility exempt from licensure to let the children’s parents and guardians know of its licensure-exempt status. This will help keep parents and guardians informed and allow them to make the best decisions for their children. Any provider who violates this act would be charged a fine of $200 a day.
Rep. Linda Black, D-Bonne Terre, sponsored legislation in the House for the past three years. Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, sponsored legislation in the Senate the past two years.
Sam’s grandma, Debbie Thrasher said the final version of the bill met their goal.
“When we met with Linda the first time, that’s what we wanted,” Thrasher said.
Thrasher had just assumed when Martha Farris was arrested for the involuntary manslaughter and abuse of a child for the death of her grandchild, that Farris wouldn’t be allowed to be watch any more children.
She said now the judges will have a law that can completely restrict defendants from watching children for compensation.
“I’m confident judges will make the right call,” she said. “(This law) will make it safer for babies.”
Thrasher said it’s a good first step but more needs to be done.
“As of January 2012, 54 child deaths occurred in 55 months in Missouri — this is unacceptable and we can’t continue to allow preventable deaths in unlicensed day care facilities,” Rupp said. “As a parent, I understand Missourians’ concerns regarding their children’s safety — nothing is more important than our kids’ well-being.
“When we leave our children in the care of others, we deserve to know they are safe, and we need to know all the facts about the facility, so, as parents, we can make informed choices. With the final approval from the Senate, Missouri families are one step closer to having better peace of mind that their children are in good, competent hands.”
Thrasher said most of the deaths were sleep-related and because “people were watching too many kids.
“The deaths were preventable,” she said.
She believes the new laws will make people thing twice about watching too many children. She said if child care providers are caught watching more than four children they face a steeper fine than before.
“I wish we could have done more but this is an important first step,” she said.
Thrasher shared Sam’s story with committee members and then sent out letters to legislators. She told of how she and her daughter together picked Farris as Sam’s babysitter. There was only one licensed daycare in town and that facility was full. Thrasher thought Farris would be OK because she came recommended and had been watching children 20 years. They were told Farris watched seven children but not all at the same time.
Farris’ trial is scheduled in June.
She said she is very proud of the work that Supporters Proposing Sam Pratt’s Law did. “Our voices were head and our votes do count … We couldn’t have done it without everyone calling and writing letters.”
She was also thankful to Black and Rupp for caring about children in Missouri and sponsoring the legislation.
Teresa Ressel is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 179 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.